Ina Ford swung open the Melrose YMCA front door and walked into the Y like she owned it. Greeted with a round of applause, the 85-year-old Ina returned for the first time after months of quarantine and stay at home orders. Ina is a familiar face at the Y and the type of member who visited five days a week before COVID-19 hit.  Her grand entrance was nothing short of emotional for Ina and the Melrose staff as their claps turned into laughter upon reading the button on Ina’s shirt: “My name is Ina. I’m new here.” Ina has been a member of the Melrose YMCA for nearly 15 years and the novelty of coming back after so many months away, made an old habit feel new again.

Downstairs in the gymnasium, Ina’s classmates waited for instructor, Kay Danieli, to start Stay Fit, an aerobics class for active older adults. Kay is a long-time YMCA employee with a career teaching aerobics in Melrose spanning over 40 years.

Another participant, Carol Brandano remarked, “this is the longest I have been away from the Y, I missed exercising. I enjoy it and it keeps me in good shape. I want to keep going forever.”  It’s clear from spending just ten minutes in the room with Carol and this group that their motivation to come to the Y is as much about their social connections as their physical fitness. Carol has been taking the class for half of her lifetime. “I am so happy to be back at the Y. I missed seeing Kay and I miss the people. I’ve always loved the Y and the people here,” she explained.

Further up Route 1 in Peabody, another group of active older adults gathers at the Torigian YMCA.  The self-proclaimed “Aqua Divas” are a group of women who get their workouts, and social time, in at the pool on weekday mornings.  When the pandemic interrupted their normal routine, they knew they would have to find another way to keep the group going to maintain their health and well-being.  During the lockdown, these ladies kept in touch with regular phone calls and Zoom meetups. As the weather got warmer, you would often find them in the Torigian YMCA parking lot on Friday mornings socially distancing and socializing.

“Seniors rely on the Y to keep them active and provide a place to meet and be social with their friends,” explained Robert Lowell, Executive Director of the Torigian YMCA in Peabody. “We talked with a lot of our senior members during the shutdown and it was tough on everyone that we could not open our doors. People are back now, and it’s great to see everyone again.”

The YMCA of Metro North association did so much to keep members engaged.  In the first few weeks, staff called all 1,600 senior members to check on their safety and well-being.  They also made free group exercise videos available online and on area public access stations including Stay Fit, Chair Yoga, and Enhanced Strength Training — which are low-impact workouts popular with senior members – which combined received more than 1,000 of watched video time online.

The Aqua Divas are back together now, too. They have reclaimed the outdoor pool several days a week and are safely exercising with their friends come rain, wind, or cold weather.  If a global pandemic can’t break this bond, a little stormy weather certainly won’t either.

One long-time senior member said, “Being back in the water made my arthritis so much better, it’s just fantastic and out of all the places I’ve gone, the Y has done the best job keeping us safe.”

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